Trails can be on sand or boardwalk at White Sands National Park. Photograph by Tira Howard.  

CHIEF RANGER AARON SUMMERLIN has a deep appreciation and respect for White Sands National Park’s roughly 227 square miles. “It’s beautiful but also deceptively dangerous,” he says. “It is home to extreme temperatures and venomous insects and reptiles. The park’s mesmerizing beauty can also be disorienting.”

Summerlin, who has worked at White Sands for five years, has a few simple rules for being safe while having fun.

1. Plan it out. “Anytime someone decides to enjoy nature, they should have a plan,” says Summerlin. “Water, food, and first-aid kits are always important, but so is communication. Let people know where you are going. Have a fully charged cellphone and plan your route. Take note of landmarks and get your bearings before heading out for a hike. Weather conditions can change quickly, so having a backup plan is very important as well.” 

2. Carry water. Yeah, we already mentioned it, but it matters that much. Bring more than enough water for yourself and for everyone in your crew. And drink it throughout your stay. One of the first effects of dehydration? Making poor decisions.

3. New to the park? Stick to the trails. Newbies should start with some of the easier hikes, like the Interdune Boardwalk Trail and the Playa Trail, and work up to the moderate and then strenuous trails. “Visitors who decide they want to hike off-trail should do so only if they have planned it out and are prepared,” says Summerlin. 

4. If you need help, call 911. Even if it appears there’s no cell signal, call it. “Most times, emergency calls will still go through even if it seems like a signal is unavailable,” says Summerlin.

5. Bring GPS. But don’t depend on it exclusively; many times throughout the year it can be unreliable.

6. Follow the White Sands motto: Safety First. “We exemplify that motto with our multilingual safety brochure that we provide to all visitors,” says Summerlin.

For more information, visit White Sands National Park website or call 575-479-6124.

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